Yes, Virginia, there are arrogant, soulless jerks.

I’m not enough of a presence in the blogosphere to get pulled into any internet memes yet, but I can do the next best thing and get into a blog argument. My friend Seppo fired off a post killing Santa Claus, and now I have to use the healing power of the internets to restore the faith in humanity to the children of the world.

Seriously, though, I should make it absolutely clear that Seppopolous is not one of the arrogant, soulless jerks referred to in the title. This woman is. That is, of course, the substitute music teacher who couldn’t read “The Night Before Christmas” to her students without telling them all that Santa Claus isn’t real. Because, she explained, it’s important for children to know The Truth. Seppo’s post reminded me of the story and how much it pissed me off.

First of all, FOX News and World Net Daily had a field day with the story, because it feeds their whole “War Against Christmas” angle. And that should be reason enough for anyone with a lick of sense to be united against Ms. Farrisi. As if they needed any more ammo in their own War Against Religous Tolerance and Compromise, when there are plenty of people who will gleefully line up as part of The Secular Liberal Agenda (without, apparently, having enough intelligence to understand that the Secular Liberal Agenda is a construct as fictional as Yukon Cornelius) and play right into their most paranoid fears.

“Merry Christmas!”
“I don’t celebrate Christmas because I am of a different religion/of no religion at all.”
“Oh. Well, Merry Christmas anyway.”
“That’s all I hear this time of year. I hate your stupid holiday.”
“You’re waging war against my religion!”
“My actions are justified because your religion started oppressing my religion first!”
“Look that proves it! They’re killing Christmas!”
“It deserves to die because it’s based on a pack of filthy dirty lies! ACLU!”
“Now you’ve gone too far! Constitutional Amendment!”

Repeat until the idea of peace on earth is obliterated and the United States becomes a theocracy. All because people just can’t get over their own arrogance and the conviction that what they believe is more important than what other people believe. And anyone who thinks that only fundamentalist Christians are guilty of this needs to take a step back and look at what’s really going on.

And I’ve already gone off on a tangent. So all I’m saying is that if some Jewish guy is so freaked out at being oppressed by a holiday, then maybe he should’ve thought of that before he killed Jesus.

Anyway, back to Santa Claus. The first and most obvious problem I have with the substitute teacher who told kids “the truth” about Santa is that she was just being a dick. That’s like going around popping kids’ balloons.

Second is the issue of parental jurisdiction. If a parent chooses to tell “lies” to his children, like the one about Santa coming down the chimney to give them presents, or the one about how he loves all of them equally, then that should be his own business. It’s not the place of anyone else to tell them otherwise.

Third is that it was just such a tremendous display of crass arrogance and total lack of class. The way she rationalized it by saying that she couldn’t in good conscience perpetuate a lie. But she didn’t present the story just as a story, and she wasn’t faced with the ethical problem of how to answer a student’s question; instead, she injected her own views as something so important it simply must be said. The school district managed to recover somewhat by using a bit of deft plagiarism, referencing Francis P. Church’s “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial and telling the children that Santa passed along the message that he still exists in the spirit of Christmas.

Now Church — there’s a guy who had class. He wasn’t so wrapped up in his own self-importance that he felt he couldn’t lie to a child. And as a result, he didn’t lie, and he instead ended up writing something of undeniable brilliance, not just as a defense of The Spirit of Christmas, but the philosophy of faith and imagination.

Which finally gets to my point, my response to Seppo’s question: “Why do we tell our children lies, and get upset when those lies are revealed? Do we not want them to know the truth? Do we not want them to understand the difference between reality and fantasy?”

My response is: what is the truth? That “Santa Claus” is nothing more than an amalgamation of historical characters and myths and folklore used by copywriters who needed to meet deadlines and advertisers who needed to sell products, then appropriated by parents to perpetuate an elaborate ongoing lie to their children to explain why they only get what they want one day out of the year? Is that really the whole truth, or is that just the part that we as cynical adults are able to see?

I’m going to cheat by quoting a bit from Church’s editorial to make it sound like I’ve got a better writer on my side:

You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? … Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

The whole thing could be summed up as “it’s important for children to have their time of wonder before the cold reality of adulthood sets in,” or even the broader “Santa Claus is alive as long as we keep the spirit of Christmas within us all,” but I think both, while true, are a little too simple.

I do believe that it’s important for children to be given the time to just be children — to believe in a world where fantastic things do happen, where some kindly stranger with magic powers flies around the world and gives them presents, driven only by his own sense of generosity. And to believe that it simply is, without needing all the qualifiers and explanations and responsibilities that come with adulthood.

And most importantly, to believe it without any demarcation between reality and fantasy. Sure, a kid is able to distinguish between reality and make-believe and still have fun with the make-believe. But every time you impose that distinction on him, you’re cutting off an infinite number of ideas. You’re training him to think in terms of what’s real vs. what’s possible, instead of giving him a world where anything is possible.

It’s not just for kids, either. It’s now impossible for you or I to believe that Santa Claus is a real person who really lives at the North Pole and actually flies around in a real sleigh and really delivers presents to millions of children in one night. That’s closed off to us forever, because we’re older, and more cynical, and have learned to trust only what we can see and hear and test to be true, and dismiss the whole thing as either playful make-believe, or worse, a “lie.”

And still we work hard so we can get presents and give them away, absolving ourselves of credit and instead writing “From Santa” on the gift tag, sneaking them under the tree at night, and depending on our level of dedication, drinking the milk and eating the cookies and leaving footprints in the snow. All to perpetuate the “lie” that a person exists who works hard to give away presents, in secret, for no reason other than his own generosity and maybe the off chance of getting some milk and cookies out of the deal.

So what’s the truth there, that kids should — no, need to — know? Seems to me that everything in the story really exists; we’ve just given it the name “Santa Claus.” And telling kids that it’s all make-believe just takes away that spirit of anonymous generosity by giving the parents credit. It may seem like a simple distinction to those who think that “belief” is the same thing as “gullibility,” but I think it makes all the difference in the world. And I’d rather keep the idea going that there’s more to the universe than what we can see and hear and test. Cynicism and disappointment and skepticism and closed-mindedness will come along inevitably; I’d rather put it off as long as possible.